The Cultural Revolution

Conversely, the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) was Mao's attempt to purge China of anything deemed corruptive to the revolutionary cause. The government and local citizens suppressed anything considered western, American, or European, and anything that promoted capitalism or democracy. Homes were invaded, dissidents were imprisoned in reeducation camps, and prisoners were executed for their crimes against the state. This damaged China's economy and led to the persecution of tens of millions of people. Historians estimate up to 20 million people were killed.

Read this text on the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. Make a timeline of these events. How does the Cultural Revolution compare with the Great Leap Forward?

The Gang of Four

'Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius'

Mao had been severely shaken by the Lin Biao affair and also needed a new succession plan. In September 1972, Shanghai leader Wang Hongwen was transferred to work in Beijing for the central government, becoming the Party Vice-Chairman in the following year. At the same time, under the influence of Premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping was rehabilitated and transferred back to Beijing.

In late 1973, however, Jiang Qing and her three main backers - Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan - launched the Pi-Lin Pi-Kong campaign, which translates as "Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius". Its prime target was Zhou Enlai. Zhou came to be characterized as having Confucianist tendencies because of his emphasis on Party bureaucracy rather than continued mass revolution. Although Zhou Enlai's name was never directly mentioned during this campaign, his historical namesake, the ancient Duke of Zhou, was a frequent target.

In October 1973, Zhou became gravely ill and was admitted to a hospital. Deng Xiaoping was named First Vice-Premier and took charge of the daily business of the Party's state apparatus. Deng continued to expand Zhou's policies, while the "Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius" campaign failed to gain much momentum as a popular movement. In September 1975, Mao himself was also admitted into the hospital with a serious illness.

Graveyard commemorating young Red Guards who died during factional fighting during the Cultural Revolution

Graveyard commemorating young Red Guards who died during factional fighting during the Cultural Revolution

On January 8, 1976 Zhou Enlai died of bladder cancer, and Deng Xiaoping delivered Zhou's official eulogy. In February, Jiang Qing's group, known by their enemies as the "Gang of Four" began to target Deng. On Mao's authority, Deng was once again demoted. However, Mao resisted selecting a member of the Gang of Four to become premier, instead choosing the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng.

1976: Cultural Revolution's end

With the main Party apparatus still in control and no mass Red Guard-type movement to support the Gang of Four's campaign, popular opinion rallied around Zhou Enlai as a symbol of rational leadership. On April 5, China's traditional day of mourning, an estimated two million people gathered in and around Tiananmen Square in honor of Zhou, turning the assembly into a protest against the Gang of Four. Police were ordered to enter the area, clear the wreaths and political messages, and disperse the crowds. The Gang of Four pointed to Deng Xiaoping as the planner of this expression of public dissatisfaction.

On September 9, 1976, Mao Zedong died. Before dying, Mao had written a note to Hua Guofeng stating: "With you in charge, I'm at ease". Hence, Hua became the Party's chairman. Hua had been previously considered to be lacking in political skill and ambition, and seemed to pose no threat to the Gang of Four in the power succession. However, Hua now proved to be capable of decisive action. Encouraged by prominent generals like Ye Jianying and supported both by the Army and Deng Xiaoping's allies in the Party, Hua ordered the arrest of the Gang of Four. Their arrest brought the Cultural Revolution to its final end.